Just occasionally the blind adoration of our ‘current’ manager riles me ever so slightly. The over playing of how Wenger completely transformed Arsenal and indeed the whole of English football could be perceived as slightly disrespectful to those who have gone before. There is a belief for some that it was Arsene Wenger who made Arsenal a great club. It was pure Wenger genius to somehow break the stranglehold that Manchester United and Ferguson had on the Premier League.
It may be that those who suggest that it is the Frenchman who made Arsenal great are too young to recall what went before. However having watched my team for over 40 years and live consistently for well over 30 I feel inclined to make a few points to balance the debate.
This is NOT in any way an article to diminish what Wenger has achieved during his tenure. In the main I have enjoyed the way he has evolved a style of play for our club and I admire his philosophy. Equally there are aspects that frustrate the hell out of me. However this is not so much about Wenger and more about just setting the record straight and giving context to his achievements. For me this blog is just about perspective and a little personal shout to Mr. George Graham who I feel is forgotten just a tad by so many.
You see I am still in awe of what was achieved at Arsenal between 1986 and 1992 under George Graham and contrary to popular belief in the first part of his tenure and particularly in 1991 our football was slick, adventurous and exciting to watch. Sadly the latter Graham years were not so easy on the eye but even in 1992 to 95 Arsenal were winning trophies. We won them by having a master tactician and the helm who knew how to win ugly, a trait for which Jose Mourinho is lauded by the word’s media for. I think Giving Martin Keown a defensive midfielder, man marking job on European 10’s was pure genius and when Rafa did it with David Luiz last year it was applauded. I have even seen Arsenal fans suggest the role for Vermaelen and when Wenger did it with Manu he was a genius! You see, all about perspective and timing it seems
When Wenger arrived apparently Arsenal were on their knees.
In truth Arsenal had finished the previous season in 5th place on the same points as the team who ended the campaign in 4th.
Wenger broke the total dominance of Manchester United.
Since the advent of the Premiership in 1992/92, United had won all but one of the titles until Arsenal under Wenger won the league in 1998. So they had won the 4 out of the previous 5.
So a huge achievement by Wenger to win the Premiership in 1998 but the then failed to do so with arguably a superior side to United for the next 3 years, allowing Ferguson to make history winning a treble in 1999 on his watch.
Perhaps not quite as impressive as George Graham with tiny resources winning 2 titles in 3 years against a Liverpool side that had dominated far more than United and for longer. When Arsenal won the 1989 title, on that historic May evening at Anfield they were truly breaking a stranglehold. That Liverpool side had won 5 of the previous 7 titles, with only Everton threatening their complete dominance. Liverpool, being the great side that they were won it back in 1990 only for Arsenal and Graham to return and triumph again in 1991 and in style.
Just to reiterate how dominant Liverpool had been they had won 9 of the previous 13 leagues before George Graham’s Arsenal won in 1989. So it was not a surprise that they bounced back in 1990. What was a surprise and too often forgotten is just how Arsenal won the league again in 1990/91.
So a quick recap on just how impressive it was to break Liverpool’s dominance, not one but twice. At the start of the 1990/91 campaign Liverpool had won 10 of the previous 15 titles and had finished 1990 9 points clear of 2nd and 17 points clear of Arsenal in 4th.
Arsenal 1990/91 – How impressive?
George Graham made 2 key signings in the summer of 1990 in Anders Limpar and David Seaman but was this enough to make up 17 points on the most dominant force English football had ever seen?
Liverpool finished the season with only 3 less points and still finished 7 points behind George Graham’s Arsenal who hauled in 83, 21 more than the previous season.
Arsenal only lost one game in the entire season and that when they skipper was in prison, scored 74 goals, more than the Invincibles, let in ONLY 18, far less than the Invincibles and ended the season with a goal difference of 56, 9 better than the Invincibles.
In my opinion the Arsenal team of 1990/91 were every bit as impressive as any of Wenger’s 3 title winning teams and the brand of football they played was disciplined yet thrilling simultaneously. I have no idea what changed in George Graham after 92. The style of football changed and his legacy was undoubtedly tarnished but the ride from 1987 to 1992 was every bit as enjoyable as 1996 to 2004 and just as rewarding, for this fan at least
Wenger is a genius in the transfer market
No argument from me that in the early Wenger years Arsene uncovered some serious gems in the transfer market. Arsenal fans have been rightly proud of his adage that ‘we do not buy superstars we make them.’
However when you consider that for next to no outlay George Graham signed Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, the first two from lower leagues and then Alan Smith and David Seaman it rather puts Wenger’s boast in context.
The harsh reality is that when I compile my own greatest ever Arsenal 11 there only 2/3 players in that team signed by Arsene Wenger – Vieira, Henry and possibly Pires
Has Wenger improved our youth policy?
Another area perhaps conveniently ignored is that Arsene Wenger has done little for the club in the context of producing our own talent.
The truth is that Wenger had no time at all for reserve team football before it was done a way with, yet in the 1980s and early 1990s the production of home grown talent was integral to Arsenal’s success.
Now we all know that football has changed and that the money involved had lead to the bigger clubs buying success but should this be at the expense of developing our own players? I have had cause to interview several of the Arsenal coaching staff in recent months and it has become apparent to me that the club’s attitude to anything below the first team has changed considerably.
Under Graham the interaction between the first team and the reserves was critical to the success of the club. For Graham his coaching and management style was collaborative and his reserve team manager was a key member of the team. He used the reserves to strengthen returning players, blood younger players and critically improve first teamers. Players in his first team squad where weaknesses had been identified would be given extra training by the reserve team manager and first team coach before being brought back.
Under Wenger every player who he deemed a first team squad member trained with him leaving the reserve team with those he did not rate and the kids. Of course there was a cost to this with only Ashley Cole breaking into the first team in the early Wenger years, but he was a product of the pre Wenger policy. To be fair to Wenger the changing rules on the substitute bench have impacted policy to a degree.
Again this is about personal perspective but I do wonder whether when the money was tight and the purchasing power was limited, this policy might have been regretted. From 2006 to 2010 a bench full of hungry homegrowns, battle hardened in the reserves night have stood us in better stead than Silvestre, Denilson and Vela? The loan system has been preferred by Wenger but with the exception of Wilshere I am struggling to think where it has been used with real success.
So in the final analysis….
As I hope I have made abundantly clear this piece is not about what Wenger has not done. The man has worked miracles and history will no doubt credit him for it. However I hope this piece gives some perspective to how much this club achieved in the later 80s and early 90s under a visionary manager at the top of his game who also transformed the club.
It was George Graham who made Adams a regular replacing an experienced professional, Tommy Caton and who signed Bould, Dixon and Winterburn.
It was George Graham who made the brave decision to sell fans favourites like Sansom, Anderson and Nicholas to build a new Arsenal with a blend of inspired signings and youth.
It was George Graham who made the unpopular decision to replace Lukic with David Seaman.
It was George Graham’s collaborative management approach that saw players like Kevin Campbell and David Hillier ready to step straight into the first team exactly when we need them to with the title in 1991 and 2 years later gave is the one and only Ray Parlour.
It was also George Graham who gave us our first league title in 18 years and our first European glory in 24 years, something our present leader has yet to achieve.
Of course we cannot forget on our way to that European glory he gave us 1 Nil v Torino, 1 Nil v PSG and ultimately 1 Nil in the final v Parma. What that all give us? It gave us a signature song that had stated with us to this day.
So whilst we all applaud Arsene Wenger for what he has achieved with his 7 trophies in 18 years, spare a thought for the man who gave us 6 trophies in 9 years and genuinely broke a pattern of one club dominance that went back 15 years and not 5.
I reiterate this is not designed to belittle Wenger’s achievements in the past more to place them in context alongside another GREAT Arsenal leader who’s efforts are perhaps forgotten, either due to the nature of his departure or through ignorance.
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